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BOOK REVIEW Adventures in Japan: A Literary Journey in the Footsteps of a Victorian Lady.


Author: Evelyn Kaye

Publisher: Blue Panda Publications, Boulder, Colorado

Rating: *****

A great storyteller, Evelyn Kaye artfully intertwines the past and the present to bring to life the adventures of a woman who lived a century ago. By following solo in the footsteps of writer/adventuress/Victorian lady Evelyn Bird, Kaye herself shows courage and dedication in pursuing a unique quest and in recording it for the annals of history.

Kaye follows Bird's path through northern Japan in 1878 to resurrect the spirit of an indomitable woman who, against incredible odds, fulfilled her dream of traveling and writing. In those days, when women were imprisoned by Victorian rules, that was quite a feat, because "Travelers are privileged to do the most improper things with perfect propriety." And I'm sure that Victorian society was aghast to read of her escapades (although I imagine the women were secretly envious). But Kaye also learned that Bird did not need resurrecting there: the Japanese have kept her spirit alive, with photos, memorials, translations of her book and an Isabella Bird contest. One company even uses her name: "Isabera Construction Company".

By knitting descriptions from Bird's book, "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan", into her own, Kaye relates what she encounters today to what Bird experienced in those days. This technique put me right into the picture with both women. I could almost feel the relentless rain and ubiquitous bugs; touch the mountain air; taste and smell the Japanese food; hear the sounds of the people, the vehicles, the animals.

Kaye's charming tome provides us with marvelous insights into Japanese scenery and nature, accommodation and food, costumes and culture, architecture and history. The book's centerfold contains color snapshots to complement the stories, and each chapter begins with a quote from Bird next to a quote from a modern source. Jan Morris' preface is also an important tone-setter: She talks about many amazing Victorian women – "lady-adventurers" –purposeful pioneers in breaking convention. The book also contains a useful reference section for those wanting to plan their own journeys to Japan.